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Using art to demonstrate atrocities of war

By Victoria Aronson

Section: Arts, Top Stories

February 8, 2013

Seeking to portray the casualties and atrocities of warfare, Linda Bond, artist and visiting scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, presented “The Artist as an Advocate for Social Change” to the Brandeis Community. As an integral component of ’Deis Impact, a festival promoting social justice and advocacy, the event explored the portrayal of traumatic events through artistic renditions.

Initiating the presentation with a synopsis of other artists engaged in social advocacy, both throughout history and today, Bond referenced painter Francisco Goya, known for producing a series of prints titled “The Disasters of War.” Describing death as “a grim observation of the inhumanity of war,” Bond describes the prints as depicting mutilation, rape and torture, among other atrocities.

Transcending the historical depiction of wartime casualties, Bond cites artist Emily Price, who has created individual portraits of American servicemen who have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan. The portraits are mounted in a geographic representation of the United States, acknowledging the inevitable sacrifices associated with the war.

Throughout the presentation, the unique mechanisms used by artists to portray the tragedies and losses inherent in human history became apparent. Elaborating on the piece “Remembering,” created by artist Ai WeiWei in dedication to the thousands of children who died in the 2009 Munich earthquake, Bond explained the symbolism behind the piece. Constructed of backpacks, the piece bears a quotation in Chinese characters from a mother of one of the young victims following the tragedy. Describing the loss of her young daughter, the mother’s quotation translates to, “She lived happily for seven years in this world.”

Other instances of artistic expression of loss and devastation include “The Cube,” a piece constructed of barbed wire by artist Mona Hoatum.

“It is a beautiful modular piece with elegance to it. Yet, when you look at it closely there is an element of danger,” Bond said. “It has the feeling of mass graves, things piled up like that, unsettled and tense.”

Referencing the potential for art to bear an impact upon social advocacy, Bond quoted artist Diego Salcedo, a Colombian-born sculptor who depicted the victims of civil wars, “I know that art does not act directly; I know that I cannot save anybody’s life, but art can keep ideas alive, ideas that can influence directly our everyday lives, our daily experiences.”

In regard to her own endeavors as an artist, Bond said, “I am not trying to tell someone else’s story,” but rather, “just trying to touch the humanity of it.” Tracing her development as an artist, Bond notes her progression from producing paintings solely on the basis of formal elements such as shape and composition to producing work laced with a deeper meaning and content. The personalization of her artwork stemmed from experiences including losing her mother at the age of 24, her travels throughout Italy and constant depiction of loss within the media.

In particular, she cites a haunting photograph displaying young victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2000, in which children were portrayed missing limbs. Explaining that the dismemberment was a mechanism to prevent individuals from voting, Bond states, “I was thinking about how brutal that is, it is a wound that never goes away.” Influenced by the photograph, Bond began incorporating hands within her artwork as well.

Following the bombings of the Kosovo war, Bond created drawings of smoke, bearing an almost photographic quality. Surrounded by these depictions of the smoke emanating from the bombings, Bond recalled when the tragic events on 9/11 struck the U.S. “It was so profound, somehow I couldn’t work for a while,” she said. Using newspaper photographs as a source of reference, she began integrating gunpowder with graphite as a medium within her artwork.

Rather than seeking to convey a political message condemning certain groups through her work, Bond said, “I feel like any of us could be a terrorist given the right conditions.” Instead, she claimed, “I think everybody is the victim, let’s just talk about the humanity of this.”

Despite the obvious connotation of gunpowder with destruction and tragedy, Bond utilizes it as a medium within her work to express the potential to create and promote peace.

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